Stupid Spurs and their amazing movement

Rahat’s post about the backhanded Spurs compliments (backhanded in the direction of the Rockets) made me wonder if there’s a way to analyze team movement using data. I identified a few possibilities, and ultimately settled on what I think is the simplest. While data does not exist (at least not publicly) that tracks the movement of the ball, data does exist that tracks the movement of the players. A few clicks later, and we can see just how all the playoffs team stack up in terms of how much their players move on the court.

Chart 1

Teams ranked by players’ distance traveled from regular season to playoffs

This chart ranks all the playoff teams by the distance their players travel per game. On the left is their movement during the regular season. On the right is their movement during the playoffs. From the Blazers’ perspective, they went from playing the 4th least movement-oriented team to the most movement-oriented team. That probably wasn’t very fun for them. You can also see how much more lead-footed the Rockets became during the playoffs. During the regular season they were actually the 5th most mobile playoff team, and now they’re the 12th.

Of course this chart only analyzes rankings. It doesn’t capture the magnitude of movement or change. The following chart does.

Chart 2

Distance traveled by team from regular season to playoffs

This chart replaces rank with actual distance traveled by all players on a team per game (normalized to account for overtime minutes). All hail the San Antonio Spurs. Now we can truly see that the Spurs just execute so much better than everyone else. And it literally is not close. Look at the gap between the Spurs and the next highest team. They’re simply running circles around their opponents. No wonder the Blazers look horrible in comparison.

On a side note, the Blazers suffered their own sizable drop off in movement between the regular season and playoffs. It feeds into my claim that the Blazers were the most tired team entering the playoffs due to using their bench the least out of all NBA teams. It just so happens that their first round opponent, the Houston Rockets, were in no position to take advantage because the Rockets used their bench the 3rd least out of all NBA teams, despite their bench being the 5th best. And now, the most tired team in the playoffs is even more tired and is up against the team that used their bench the most during the regular season. The results are speaking for themselves.

On another side note, do you think that the Spurs using their bench the most is somehow related to them being able to run around the most, especially in the playoffs? </sarcasm>

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About the author: Richard Li is an independent researcher and consultant. He likes numbers and pictures.

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